Philippines – 1965

Carol Freeman, Philippines (1965-1967)

The death of Sargent Shriver and the anniversary of the JFK invitation to “do for our country” brought back how inspired so many were in the early sixties.  To this day, I do not know how the Peace Corps recruiter made it to my teachers college in Springfield, South Dakota.  But I decided then and there to go, though I taught for two years before signing up so I could say I knew how to teach.  So I was Philippines group XIV, 1965-67.  [Note:  I don’t know if XIV was the fourteenth group to go to the Philippines or the fourteenth Peace Corps group.]

I, like every RPCV I’ve heard speak about their experience, learned more from being in the Philippines than they learned from me.  I was placed in the home of the district’s Congressman and his family.  He was gone most of the time and his wife went to bed “very” early so I wasn’t meeting anyone.  I talked with teachers and the principal at the elementary school where I was working, and though I don’t remember the details of how this came about, a small nipa and bamboo house was built for me.  They helped find two school girls to live with me because they were sure I couldn’t figure out how to cook, etc.  They were most certainly correct.  It is interesting how so many RPCV’s have kept in contact with at least a few people even over 40-50 years.  I have kept in contact with these two girls, now grandmothers.  Though I’m not a real Facebook user, the children and grandchildren of these two have asked me to be their “friend.”

I often wonder about what I learned.  I am always aware of how much better off we are in the USA when it comes to jobs and material things.  We also have better opportunities for education and better safety nets than in many developing countries though ours are not as good as they could be.  The Philippines is an example of how intractable problems can be and how little change has come over many years to so many people in the world.

I do not think we can measure how much we are changed by living in a culture very different from ours.  Even when we genuinely try to understand other people and how other countries work, perhaps we can never truly know what is going on.  Why am I only helping the best teachers in the elementary school no matter how much I try to include others?  Did those I did worked with, and did demonstration lessons for, ever change their teaching one whit?  Why did the summer baseball league I started disintegrate after a fight started on the ball field – out of a generations-long feud, I’m told?  Why is it that sometimes I was in “culture shock” and could hardly wait until it is time to go to Manila for a physical and mental check-up?  Sometimes you just want to go for a walk and not have lots of children following you.  Because I am tall and have a relatively long nose, the first local dialect word I learned seemed to be “elong” or nose.

I was the town’s (New Washington, Aklan) special guest, was invited everywhere, met a lot of people, and participated in most of the political, social, and cultural events.  Enough people had enough English so that I could ask a lot of questions and try to learn as much as I could.  I’m retired now and am doing as much traveling as I can, but the experience is never as deep as when you live with the people for an extended time.